Bombardier Reassessing CSeries Flight-Test Schedule

By Graham Warwick
Source: Aviation Week & Space Technology
September 23, 2013
Credit: Rick Radell Bombardier

Emerging from a hiatus in new-product development in 2008, Bombardier took on its biggest challenge yet—to enter a new market with a clean-sheet design, its largest aircraft ever and its first with fly-by-wire flight controls, carbon-fiber composite wing and geared-turbofan engines.

The Canadian manufacturer crossed its first hurdle on Sept. 16, when the CSeries narrowbody airliner made its delayed first flight from Mirabel, near Montreal. But with the focus shifting to service entry, assumptions made when the development program was laid out are being reexamined to see whether Bombardier can deliver the first aircraft as planned, a year from now.

First flight was scheduled for December, but was postponed to the end of June by assembly delays. It then slipped further as ground testing took longer than anticipated. So far, the company is sticking publicly to plans for a five-aircraft, 2,400-hr. test program leading to entry into service (EIS) of the initial 110-seat CS100 in 12 months, but its experience with ground tests is leading Bombardier to review its plans.

“We really need to reassess, to take another look at the scope of flight testing and how fast we can do it,” says Rob Dewar, vice president and general manager for CSeries. “Our focus has been on early entry into service, but the aircraft has to be mature and ready for EIS.” The reassessment “will take a couple of months” and require a few more flights, as well as discussions with CSeries customers, he says.

“Boeing laid out the 787 at 48 months, and it took close to eight years. We set our schedule at 5.5 years, and some thought that was too conservative. But aircraft are more integrated now, so there are more tests to do, and the rules are more challenging, which is new to us,” Dewar says, adding “We set the schedule [for first flight] too aggressively. It took longer than planned.”

Even with delays, there is still some cushion in the schedule before Bombardier would incur penalties for late delivery. Playing down the delay, Bombardier CEO Pierre Beaudoin says the internal target for first flight was June, so it was less than three months behind. Nico Buchholz, executive vice president of group fleet management for CSeries launch customer Lufthansa, says the EIS is still within the window of variability assumed in the carrier's planning.

Bombardier is holding to its projected $3.4 billion for development of the CSeries, although it now reports a total of $3.9 billion to include the $500 million in interest on financing its $2 billion share of the development cost, with the rest coming from suppliers and the Canadian, Quebec and U.K. governments.

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